Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice Acceptance Remarks

President and CEO Teree Caldwell-Johnson was the recipient of the 2023 Cristine Wilson Medal presented by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women. Here are Teree’s inspiring remarks:

What do you do

When you’ve done all you can do

And it seems like it’s never enough?

Tell me, what do you give

When you’ve given your all

And it seems like

You can’t make it through?


Well you just stand

When there’s nothing left to do

You just stand

Watch the Lord see you through

Yes after you done all you can

You just stand.


Stand…Six decades ago Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., issued his resounding call for racial harmony that set off decades of American’s push and pull toward equality and justice. King began his speech by decrying economic disparity, quality of life issues, police brutality and voter rights.

He brought his remarks home with the sermonic delivery of his dream of social and economic equity with a harmony that has transcended racial and ethnic lines for the past 60 years.

Now I am not MLK, nor do I have his oratorical prowess or his cadence of good preaching, but today I stand on both his word and his promise and challenge you to do the same. The coincidence of the alignment of today’s event with the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington should call us, demand us, it should double dog dare us all to stand.

Stand on the shoulders and in awe of those that came before us.

Stand for and uphold equality and justice in all forms and all places.


Stand in the gap for the marginalized, the unseen and the unheard.

Standing on the Shoulders

Today I stand in awe of the 2023 Hall of Fame inductees…and the hundreds of worthy and notable awardees whose names shape a list of Iowa trailblazers and way makers that is second to none.

I also stand on the shoulders of Cristine Wilson and the 35 distinguished medal recipients whose body of work and simple eloquence of example have set the tone, paved the way and raised the bar for us all to use the human, social and political capital at our disposal to advance the cause of equality and justice in our respective spheres of influence.

There is no question that today I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors brought to this country in bondage on a slave ship that docked at Port Comfort, Virginia, in the year 1619.

Today I stand on the shoulders of giants – giants who were not “slaves” but who were enslaved.

Giants who were both bought and brave – sold and strong.

Giants who embody what it means to be resilient. A resilience that paved the way for many shining examples of Black brilliance to emerge – indeed a level of bold and brave Black brilliance that transcends both time and circumstance.

A brilliance that allows us to stand tall and without apology claim our rightful place in history. A history of our people, our contributions and our culture that cannot be rewritten, recanted, revised, retracted, reworked, revoked or erased to assuage White guilt and shame, advance White privilege or mitigate White fragility.

While painful and often uncomfortable for others, I will always stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and on the back of history and its ability to illuminate and acknowledge the pain of persistent inequality and injustice.

As I stand before you receiving the Cristine Wilson Medal, I stand to uphold the notion of equality and justice in all forms and all places and spaces where it must exist. From the hallowed halls of our federal, state and county governments to the respective daises of our city councils and local school boards, I am here to announce that our Kumbaya moments not longer exist.

We Must Continue to Stand for Equality and Justice

In the face of eroded voting rights nationwide and after the striking down of affirmative action in college admissions and women’s reproductive health and abortion rights by the Supreme Court, I – indeed we – must continue to stand.

Amid growing threats of political violence and hatred against people of color, Jews, and the LGBTQ+ community, the issues today appear eerily similar to those in 1963.

Bottom line, there is an undercurrent of the undoing of progress and a backward movement being experienced in Iowa and other states across the nation.

Our elected officials are taking a different approach to justice and equality that in no way aligns with those things we have fought for our entire lives. Further, they are now backing it up with legislative action, policy and rules that are both regressive, unequal, unequitable and unjust.

To stand and uphold the notion of equality and justice is being mindful of who we elect or better yet – standing for election yourself. It is showing up at state hearings, city council and school board meetings and standing your ground regarding the banning of books, the erasure of Black history, and bills passed that promote vague and suppressive language focused on Racism, Sexism, Diversity. We can and must do better…for you see – our very future as a people and a democracy hinge on it.

Speak for Those Who Have No Voice

As the child of educators and civil rights activists I have an obligation to uphold the struggles of the marginalized, the unseen and the unheard. Both professionally and as a community volunteer I have centered my work in a way that gives me a seat at the table, a voice in the conversation and a vote in the decision making. Let me remind you there is NOTHING LIKE PRESENCE IN THE ROOM!

I have made a conscious decision to center my work on the education pursuits and academic achievement of all students in the Des Moines school district.

The countless success stories of the immigrants and refugees also move me as they anchor and move to prosperity through the service-enriched housing model of Oakridge Neighborhood.

And since 2017 I have researched and examined the health and wellbeing of individuals of African descent and worked to create the One Economy framework for asset building and wealth creation aimed to eliminate the racial wealth gap.

Proverbs 31:8 calls us to:

Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are deprived and dispossessed.

Indeed, the Bible commands us to be a voice for the voiceless, a stabilizer for the marginalized and a loud and crashing cymbal for the unheard.

I am reminded of a song we sang as little children – This Little Light of Mine – I’m Going to Let it Shine. Today, I challenge both the young and the not so young to be reminded of these lyrics – everywhere I go – I’m going to let it shine, in everything I do, I’m going to let it shine – Jesus gave it to me – and I’m going to let it shine – let it shine let it shine let it shine.

The soul of our state and our nation hangs in the balance and the challenges us to use our political muscle, indeed our civic and social capital, NOW to move the needle on equality and justice.

As I accept the 2023 Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice today my message is simple – NEVER FORGET TO STAND!